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China denies claims a million Muslim Uighurs held in internment camps

China has rejected claims one million of its mostly Muslim Uighur minority are being held in internment camps, while it has also insisted “there are no such things” as re-education centres.

The country responded to concerns, raised by a member of a UN human rights committee, that its Xinjiang region has been turned into “something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone”.

Human rights expert Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, last week highlighted reports that more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities are being held in counter-extremism centres.

Another two million “have been forced” into re-education camps for “political and cultural indoctrination”, Ms McDougall had claimed, as she cited the work of rights groups.

However, a Chinese official hit back at the allegations in an appearance before the committee on Monday, insisting all Xinjiang citizens, including Uighurs, “enjoy equal freedom and rights”.

Ma Youqing, among 50 high-level Chinese officials to answer questions from the committee, said: “The argument that one million Uighurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue.”

He added: “There is neither deliberate targeting at a particular ethnic minority, nor suppressing or restricting the rights or the freedom of religious belief of the Uighur people.”

Police patrolling as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque after the morning prayer on Eid al-Fitr in the old town of Kashgar in China's Xinjiang region
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China has long been running a ‘strike hard’ campaign in Xinjiang

Responding on Monday, Ms McDougall claimed China “didn’t quite deny” that re-education programmes are taking place.

“You said that was false, the one million. Well, how many were there? Please tell me,” she asked.

“And what were the laws on which they were detained, the specific provisions?”

China has long been running a “strike hard” campaign in Xinjiang, which it says is a counter-terrorism programme aimed at combating ethnic violence.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper insisted on Monday the tough security measures had stopped Xinjiang from turning into “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya”.

However, Human Rights Watch has claimed the programme “is in practice far broader, and encompasses anyone suspected of political disloyalty, which in Xinjiang could mean any Uighur, particularly those who express, even peacefully, their religious or cultural identity”.

Muslims face regulations banning beards and veils as well as the distribution of unauthorised Korans.

China’s constitution guarantees the freedom of religious worship but the ruling Communist Party is officially atheist and keeps tight restrictions on religious activities.

On Saturday, officials in Weizhou, in China’s northern Ningxia region, delayed the demolition of an £11m mosque after thousands demonstrated to stop its destruction.

The word “mosque” was reportedly banned on Chinese social media at the weekend, while internet and 4G mobile phone service was said to have been cut off from the local area in an apparent bid to stop the sharing of videos.

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